Although Governor Gavin Newsom signed a invoice Banning the sale of most new gasoline-powered tools by 2024, gardeners and landscapers say a $ 30 million state grant is not enough to help small operators switch to electricity.
The state agency responsible for administering the grant estimates that it is enough to give every self-employed gardener a 50% coupon for a tool away from leaf blower trucks, lawn mowers, small chainsaws, brush cutters and trimmers that most carry.
In fact, local governments have learned that they have to offer more. In Southern California, a regional air quality district that has run a similar incentive program since 2017 saw few takers until it increased discounts to 75% per tool. The district combined this with an awareness program and encouraged landscapers to test electrical equipment.
The California Air Resources Board is still trying to determine who will be eligible for the rebate, but Assembly Member Marc Berman, one of the sponsors of the bill, said he was ready to add more funds if necessary.
“Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good,” said the Democrat of Menlo Park.
A chainsaw and gas on the ground during fire mitigation work at a property along the Via Floreado road in Orinda on November 16, 2021. Ken’s rotoculture and landscaping company owns about 50 tools to gasoline that could be affected by a state ban on new small gas engines. Aric Crabb / Bay Area Media Group
Environmentalists hailed the country’s first law to advance California’s clean energy goals, noting that the state estimates smog-forming pollution from small gasoline engines will exceed emissions from passenger cars this year. But the electrification of the landscaping industry creates financial and physical burdens for the estimated 60,000 one-person and often unlicensed landscaping companies, an industry with an average income of less than $ 40,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There is an argument for subsidizing the transition. An electric leaf blower and batteries cost almost twice as much as a comparable gasoline version. California estimates that a complete transition of nearly 3 million tools used by landscaping professionals will cost $ 1.29 billion.
Bryan, a landscaper who only asked to be identified by his first name because he feared losing business, uses a mixture of electrical and gas equipment. The electrics fail.
“I have 10 to 15 houses a day, right now, but with electric (tools) I can do seven or five houses a day,” he said. That’s a loss of $ 1,000 a week.
Already, Bryan has told his child he can’t afford books or a new laptop. The cost of a full conversion by purchasing all power tools, he said, would force him to raise prices by 30%. He worries that his residential customers will buy their own tools and do it themselves, causing him to quit his job.
When the bill was signed, Berman and Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego called it a victory for the environment and human health. Power tools have already been widely adopted by California homeowners, but only a fraction of commercial landscaping companies have made the switch, according to a 2018 survey by the Air Resources Council.
Jorge Mijango of Ken’s Rototilling and Landscaping uses a chainsaw to chop down trees to mitigate fires at a property along the Via Floreado road in Orinda on November 16, 2021. The landscaping company owns around 50 gasoline-powered tools that could be affected by a state ban on new small gasoline engines. Aric Crabb / Bay Area Media Group
An employee of Ken’s Rototilling and Landscaping carries cut branches up a hill during fire mitigation work at a property along the Via Floreado road in Orinda on November 16, 2021. Aric Crabb / Bay Area News Group
At that time, 8 in 10 landscapers said they plan to purchase gasoline-powered equipment prioritizing performance, runtime and cost. But run a gasoline leaf blower for an hour, for example, emits the same amount of pollution like driving a Toyota Camry from Los Angeles to Denver, according to the Air Council.
The conversion of lawn equipment will bring the rest of the state in line with cities such as Palo Alto, Los Altos and Menlo Park, which have already banned noisy leaf blowers. The law also directs the Air Resources Board to develop statewide regulations for other small motorized equipment, such as golf carts, small generators and pressure washers.
But the landscaping industry, the main target of the ban, says the transition has already been costly.
Steven Wood purchased four batteries for his electric leaf blower after a number of Bay Area communities banned gas-powered leaf blowers. Woods, who owns a small landscaping business, immediately noticed that the batteries don’t go far enough.
“I never spent $ 200 on something that lasted 45 minutes,” said Wood, “and it doesn’t last six to eight homes a day.”
After the batteries run out, Wood’s two employees resort to raking, which takes three times as long to complete a job.
The tests back it up.
Consumer Reports evaluated gasoline and power tools, such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers and trimmer, side by side. The nonprofit consumer organization found that battery-powered tools, with low maintenance and ease of use, were good candidates for homeowners under an acre of land who could wait to recharge their batteries. batteries. But when it came to larger plots, more robust weeds, or long hours of use, gas tools excelled.
“As an industry, we want this (battery powered) equipment to be able to handle what we throw at it,” said Sandra Giarde, executive director of the California Landscape Contractors Association. “But it’s not there yet.”
Ken Tamplen, owner of Ken’s Rototilling and Landscaping, owns a chainsaw at a property along the Via Floreado road in Orinda on November 16, 2021, in Orinda. Aric Crabb / Bay Area Media Group
The Air Resources Council said the technology is close enough. While power tools don’t have the same horsepower, they do offer other benefits, such as longer life, better torque for some tools, and savings in gasoline and maintenance, Christopher said. Dilbeck, air pollution specialist.
“We recognize that, yes, there will be substantial costs associated with what we are offering,” Dilbeck said. “This is part of the reason this funding is available. “
The board, which will allocate the state’s $ 30 million grant, has yet to reveal how it will distribute the incentives, other than targeting small operators, including those without. commercial license. In one scenario, California could offer 12,000 small landscapers a 50% discount on all their new tools, or each sole owner could receive a 50% discount on a tool.
“You won’t be able to get the job done that quickly,” said Ken Tamplen, owner of Ken’s Rotostilling, a landscaping company in Contra Costa County. “You won’t be able to make that much money.”
This article is part of California Division, a collaboration between writers examining income inequality and economic survival in California.
CALmatters.org is a non-profit, non-partisan media company explaining California politics and politics.